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Tale of Two Zingers

01.14.2008 05:57 | DISPATCHES

Not only Obama, but Iran's Supreme Leader, spoke with a barbed tongue this week.

It was the week of the artful put-down. The first was Obama's now infamous response to Hillary Clinton's protest, at the last presidential New Hampshire debate, that "I don't think I'm that bad."

"You're likeable enough," he replied in the zinger heard around the world."That one-liner swung the primary," said Reason Magazine's David Weigel. Along with countless others, he recoiled at Obama apparently taking advantage of Hillary's newfound vulnerability.


Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen called it a "patronizing dismissal. . . . A version of 'nice personality' -- the killer description of a girl from my high school days."

The hard right's favorite sourpuss, Charles Krauthammer, found it a "gratuitous self-indicting aside. . . . deeply ungracious. . . from a candidate who had the country in a swoon over his campaign of grace and uplift."

But others saw it in a different light. Responding to Krauthammer's article, Infidel65 commented, "When Obama said it he wasn't smirking or smiling; he was frowning, as if to say 'let's move on from this BS.'"

Another commenter wrote, "Obama looked as exasperated as I felt. His. . . response is one I expect he's given to his daughters when they've been trying to attract attention inappropriately." It seemed obvious that Obama was impatient with Hillary's latest tactic, playing the voters' heartstrings. But whether or not Obama thus sealed his New Hampshire death warrant, there's no denying how sweet his riposte was.

And not just for those of us filled with contempt, whether rational or not, for Hillary. Obama's positions represent pickings only slightly less slim for progressives than Hillary's. In fact, the moment was also to be savored just for the artfulness of it.

You have to admit it would be cool to have a president who's, well, cool. Remember the ease with which Obama sank that three-pointer on one try in a South Carolina high school gym earlier this year? Obama's killer line to Hillary was all that and more.

Phrases like "rapier wit," "damning with faint praise," and "back-handed compliment" don't do it justice. Tacking on "enough" to an adjective is something those who consider themselves funny or hip might do among friends. But to hear a serious contender for the presidency deliver that line, and with the aplomb of a top stand-up comedian or actor, was beyond compare.

If Hillary winds up winning the nomination, at least we'll always have New Hampshire.

Another zinger slipped below the radar even though it was for even higher stakes than the presidency of the United States. Iran watcher M.K. Bhadrakumar wrote at Asia Times Online that the "Bush administration is beginning to grasp that it has no option but to negotiate with Iran. But a new danger is that negotiations with Iran, too, may soon become a non-option."

Why? Because we equated cowboy Iranian speedboat drivers with the attack on the US Cole?

Bhadrakumar explains. "Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said last week that at the moment, relations with the US are of 'no benefit to the Iranian nation. The day such relations are of benefit, I will be the first one to approve of that.'"

If that sounds like a serious diss to you, you're right. "Persians generally don't talk with people who are inconsequential," writes Bhadrakumar.

In other words, "anticipating the post-Bush era," Supreme Leader Khamenei has flicked our president aside. 


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